Referee Conor Lane’s final whistle at the Gaelic Grounds inspired even the least extrovert of Tipperary supporters to jump to their feet on Sunday afternoon - the minor footballers had retained their Munster title and done so in magnificent style.
Kerry stole an initial advantage and by the 28th minute led 1-9 to 0-5, but Tipperary responded to that affront in devastating fashion. The Premier, thanks to an irresistible display of attacking football, fired a combined 2-6 either side of half-time and led 2-11 to 1-9 by the 43rd minute.
Kerry did close the gap to three points, but such was the quality of Tipp’s football that they proved more than deserving winners. Indeed, it was an absolute privilege to witness the reigning All-Ireland champions place provincial titles back-to-back, a feat that Tipperary teams have not achieved since 1935.
And, Tipperary had heroes everywhere. Evan Comerford made a terrific save, James Feehan was superb at full-back, Dylan Fitzelle played the captain’s part to perfection, Steven O’Brien, Ian Fahey and Philip Quirke dominated physically, John Martin, Jason Lonergan and Greg Henry got through a power of work at half-forward while Tom Kirwan and Colman Kennedy were in devastating mood. Jack Loughnane, John McGrath and Colin O’Riordan made telling impacts from the bench while the search for a worthy man of the match concluded with the performance of left wing-back Bill Maher. The Kilsheelan-Kilcash man typified all that was good about Tipperary. Maher attacked relentlessly, supported his teammates, prompted his playing colleagues with some terrific passes and played with a style which suggests a bright, bright future for this south Tipperary star.
Points from Jack Savage (free) and Nially Sheehy helped Kerry into a 0-2 to no-score lead inside the opening four minutes.
Tipperary then provided us with a glimpse of what David Power’s men were ultimately capable of when hitting Kerry with four successive points to lead 0-4 to 0-2 by the 11th minute.
A Colman Kennedy free got Tipperary moving in the fifth minute. Steven O’Brien then added a right-footed effort before John Martin cracked over a superb point in the ninth minute to give Tipperary the lead. Two minutes later Philip Quirke fired Tipp’s fourth point. It is worth noting that Kerry were fortunate not to concede a goal in the seventh minute, but Gavin Curran and Gavin Crowley managed to smother efforts from Tom Kirwan and then Colman Kennedy.
Kerry fought back however with points from Kieran Murphy, a Jack Savage free and another fine score from Niall Sheehy helping his side into a 0-5 to 0-4 lead by the 15th minute. Then, following a defensive error, Sheehy stroked home a terrific left-footed shot in the 16th minute to help Kerry into a four-point lead.
Tipperary enjoyed goal chances in the 18th and 19th minutes.
Initially Colman Kennedy fired wide following a Philip Quirke pass while Quirke was extremely unlucky to see his shot beat Kerry ‘keeper Gavin Curran, but not the right-hand upright a minute later.
A Conor Keane point, which just as easily could have been a goal, in the 21st minute forced Kerry into a 1-6 to 0-4 lead - having now conceded 1-4 without reply Tipperary needed a score and found one when John Martin booted over.
Martin’s effort failed to discourage Kerry however and Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s men helped themselves to three further points - courtesy of Jack Savage (two) and Conor Keane - and led 1-9 to 0-5 by the 28th minute.
Tipperary, however, responded to the Kerry challenge in utterly brilliant fashion - the Kingdom were not permitted to score again until the 44th minute while the Premier fired 2-6 without reply.
A smashing left-foot point from Jason Lonergan and a Tom Kirwan effort narrowed the gap to five points and although Tipp were annoyed by referee Conor Lane’s decision to blow for half-time when Philip Quirke had picked out Tom Kirwan in a threatening one-on-one situation there was a sense that Tipperary had much more to offer this Munster final.
Indeed, following several positional switches (Steven O’Brien to full-forward, Ian Fahey to centre-forward, Philip Quirke to midfield and the introduction of Colin O’Riordan) Tipperary exploded into devastating life.
Ian Fahey belted over a rousing effort immediately after the break before Colman Kennedy conjured a wonder goal - in the 32nd minute Tom Kirwan picked out Kennedy with a well-flighted delivery and Kennedy, a guy who specialises in spectacular goals, punched home a sensational effort which looped over a stranded Gavin Curran.
Five minutes later Colman Kennedy set up Steven O’Brien for yet another point and the Tipperary men were level - 1-9 apiece.
In the 39th minute Ian Fahey cracked over a ridiculous point from an impossible angle with the outside of his right boot to hand Tipperary the lead following a blistering Colin O’Riordan burst.
Colman Kennedy then added another quality effort before Tipperary struck for a second goal in the 43rd minute - Greg Henry probed the left side of the Kerry defence before passing to Tom Kirwan. Kirwan then sold his man a sublime dummy before beating Gavin Curran with a searing right-foot shot - 2-11 to 1-9.
To their credit Kerry rolled up their sleeves and responded with a fine Niall Sheehy effort, but Tipperary were irresistible and a terrific Bill Maher run in the 47th minute culminated when the left wing-back booted over a fine individual effort.
In the 51st minute Kerry’s Cillian Fitzgerald and Tipperary’s Ian Fahey traded points before Tipp ‘keeper Evan Comerford made a telling intervention when denying Niall Sheehy from point-blank range.
Kerry attacked relentlessly with points from Niall Sheehy (free), Jack Savage (free) and Conor Keane reducing the deficit to just two points by the 58th minute - 1-14 to 2-13.
Tipperary dealt with Kerry’s late rally in expert fashion however.
Second half substitute TJ Ryan won a free off Gavin Crowley in the 61st minute which Ian Fahey converted and when Kerry lumped in a late delivery in the hope of plundering a goal the alert Philip Quirke was on hand to win the ball in spectacular fashion.
Game over. Cue euphoria.
Tipperary: Evan Comerford (Clonmel Commercials), Darren Cass (Clonmel Commercials), James Feehan (Killenaule), Lorcan Egan (Loughmore-Castleiney), Kevin Fahey (Clonmel Commercials), Dylan Fitzelle (Cashel King Cormacs, captain), Bill Maher (Kilsheelan-Kilcash, 0-1), Steven O’Brien (Ballina, 0-2), Ian Fahey (Clonmel Commercials, 0-4, 0-1 free), Jason Lonergan (Clonmel Commercials, 0-1), John Martin (Ballyporeen, 0-2), Greg Henry (Killenaule), Colman Kennedy (Clonmel Commercials, 1-2, 0-1 free), Philip Quirke (Moyle Rovers, 0-1), Tom Kirwan (Ardfinnan, 1-1). Subs: (27th) Jack Loughnane (Kildangan) for Darren Cass, (HT) Colin O’Riordan (JK Bracken’s) for Lorcan Egan, (53rd) TJ Ryan (Rockwell Rovers) for Jason Lonergan, (55th) Michael Meagher (Grangemockler-Ballyneale) for John Martin, (62nd) Jack Shelly (Mullinahone) for Tom Kirwan.
Kerry: Gavin Curran, Cathal Ó Lúing, Gavin Crowley, Shane O’Connor, Brian Crowley, Jack Barry, Greg Horan, Éanna Ó Conchúir, Kieran Murphy (0-1), David Foran, Jack Savage (0-5, 0-4 frees), Cillian Fitzgerald (0-1), Gavin O’Shea, Niall Sheehy (1-4, 0-1 free), Conor Keane (0-3). Subs: (43rd) Seán Moloney for Gavin O’Shea, (49th) Gary O’Sullivan for Éanna Ó Conchúir, (55th) Evan Doyle for Kieran Murphy, (56th) Adrian Spillane for David Foran, (59th) Patrick O’Connor for David Foran.
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).